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Book Review: Lost Girls by Ann Kelley

No parents. No rules. No way home.

Set in the time of the Vietnam war, Lost Girls by Ann Kelley is the story of 14-year-old Bonnie who is living with her military family on a base in Thailand.  A group of girls, a part of the Amelia Earhart Cadets (think Girl Scouts), leave for a tropical island retreat when they are swept away by a hurricane and deposited on the wrong island by a boatman who declares it “forbidden island” before leaving them to seek help.

After a violent storm washes away most of their provisions, the girls are forced to learn to fend for themselves and in true Lord of the Flies fashion, it doesn’t always bring out the best in the girls.

One of the items that Bonnie was able to save is her journal, and each chapter includes journal entries that highlight her decaying state of mind, frustration and the growing urgency to find food and shelter.  While on the island the girls run into a variety of complications, including wild animals, disease and the betrayal of their camp counselor; it turns out she isn’t much of a survivalist after all.

There are things that really make me want to recommend this book: it is an adventure story with females and is accessible to all ages because there is not any real bad content, it references Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance throughout, and I truly did learn some useful survival tips from it.  For the record, I personally hope I never need to use them.  Stephanie Wilkes would like the fact that they mention that the girls have stopped menstruating due to malnutrition, she always says she likes it when books address those issues.

There are a couple of things that really frustrated me as a reader: most of the characters are pretty unappealing (although there is obvious emotional and physical wear and tear on them that makes some of their attitudes understandable), I felt like there should be more of a sense of urgency among the girls, and Bonnie often seems very emotionally detached as she is telling the story and her voice didn’t draw me in the way I would have liked for it to.

In the end I give Lost Girls 3 out of 5 stars, recommending it for libraries with larger budgets and giving it bonus points for a shark attack.  Although Lost Girls is set in a historical era and it references the Vietnam War, the isolation of the island makes this more of a survival story than true historical fiction.  There are, however, some reference to Buddhism and its practices that are woven into the story that I found interesting and enlightening.  Lost Girls comes out in July from Little, Brown.